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Midwest corn fields 'A hell of a mess'

Agriculture.com Staff 06/11/2008 @ 1:59pm

Corn fields and city streets alike are turning into lakes and rivers as swollen rivers share their excess contents with whatever landscape will receive it. Unfortunately, that now-flooded land also happens to be home to corn and soybean plants struggling to survive the ongoing deluge.

Estimates of corn acres requiring replanting are trickling in anywhere from three to 10% for Iowa, and in that state and other areas of the Corn Belt, the standing water is adding to an already painful spring for many farmers. Even if acres aren't submerged right now, soils simply too wet to allow fieldwork are alone creating problems that could loom large later in the season.

Some farmers say the rough conditions thus far this spring are causing them to change their plans for what many expected to be a good crop with high market prices.

"To the southeast of me they have a hell of a mess and won't need much bin space this fall," writes Agriculture Online Marketing Talk member north ia farmer. "Overall, I still have a chance at a good crop if the guys cut the rain dance soon. I'm thinking about putting that new green paint on hold and investing in some black pipe."

Replanting is now the only course of action some farmers have if they're to salvage a corn crop. The number of acres analysts expect will be replanted is already shooting into the millions. One analyst said in a Dow Jones Newswires report on Tuesday that "four to five percent, at least 4 million acres" would likely be replanted.

What should you look for in assessing whether replanting is needed? The main thing is the time plants have spent submerged, according to Ohio State University Extension agronomist Peter Thomison. Corn at or beyond the six-leaf collar stage of development can survive under water for up to two days, provided temperatures are in the moderate 60- to 70-degree range.

"We've had fields covered with water and flooding for a long duration mainly in parts of south central and southwest Ohio, but how widespread the potential problem is we don't know yet," says Thomison, whose state, along with Indiana, has also gotten hit hard by flooding in the last few days. "Unfortunately because of the slow growth of the corn plant, the growing point is still below the soil surface in many fields and that just makes the crop more vulnerable to flooding injury. Throw in the warmer temperatures and that just basically knocks the plant out.

"If temperatures are warm during ponding, the crop may not survive 24 hours. The plant more quickly uses up oxygen in the root zone. Without oxygen, the plant can't perform critical life-sustaining functions," he says.

Once the waters can recede, look for signs of new growth to gauge whether a replant is needed. "Growers...should also analyze the growing point of the plant, and if it's soft and dark in color, that means they've probably lost the plant. The growing point should be white to cream-colored. Flooding injury may not kill the plant outright, but the crop ceases to be a productive plant because the growing point is destroyed and just paves the way for disease development," Thomison adds. "In some cases the crop will survive, but you'll have a sucker rather than a main plant."

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